Teacher, Sequim School District settle discrimination lawsuit

Middle school teacher and former Athletic Director Autumn St. George has settled her 2018 federal lawsuit against the Sequim School District and three employees over alleged discrimination involving her sexual orientation.

Robert Bryan, Western Washington Federal District Court judge, signed the dismissal order on March 15, a day after a notice of settlement was filed.

The terms of the pact, including monetary damages, were not made public under a nondisclosure agreement, school district officials and lawyers for both sides said on March 14.

The Sequim School District’s board of directors on March 18 approved the settlement after an executive session.

Settlement documents were not available as of press time.

The school district did not admit guilt as part of the agreement.

St. George said the school district created a hostile work environment on the basis of her sexual orientation that constituted sex discrimination and retaliated against her for opposing that environment.

School District Superintendent Gary Neal said if monetary damages are part of the settlement, the school district would pay its share out of the general fund, while a portion of damages also could be paid by a statewide risk management risk pool.

Randy Hill, the district’s director of human resources, said the settlement avoids the cost of a trial and limits the financial exposure to the taxpayer.

“The district doesn’t necessarily agree with all of the allegations but we took her allegations seriously,” Hill said in an interview. “We look forward to moving onward.”

In Monday’s school board meeting, directors approved St. George’s resignation.

St. George, according to Neal, filed her original complaint May 9, 2018, solely against the school district, seeking unspecified damages to be determined at trial.

She filed an amended complaint Oct. 10, 2018, adding middle school student counselor Catherine Shea, Principal Vincent Riccobene and Assistant Principal Rhonda Kromm as defendants.

“Defendants Shea, Riccobene and Kromm were primary instigators and perpetrators in the unlawful discrimination and retaliation against Plaintiff,” according to St. George’s lawsuit.

Seattle lawyer Emma Gillespie, who represented the school district, answered to the amended complaint filed in federal district court. She responded to St. George’s numerous allegations with the statements “defendants lack sufficient information to admit or deny the allegations” and that the defendants “therefore deny the same.”

“What that means is that the district is not admitting to guilt,” Neal said.

Shea, Kromm and Riccobene remain employed at the district and have not been disciplined as a result of St. George’s allegations, Neal said.

He said the district may take further action internally regarding the allegations now that the settlement has been reached and may review employee policies and procedures.

School Board President Brian Kuh would not comment on the lawsuit.

St. George could not be reached for comment.

Bainbridge Island employment lawyer Daniel Gallagher, representing St. George, could not be reached for comment.

Neal said the school district hired a private investigator to look into St. George’s allegations who issued a report.

He would not discuss its contents.

Gillespie said the person hired by the district conducted a “fact-finding investigation.”

“She did not arrive at legal conclusions,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie said an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by St. George was dismissed.

St. George’s lawsuit was dismissed “without fees or costs to any party,” according to the order signed by March 15 by Judge Bryan.

His order did not address damages.

Read an update on this story in the March 27 edition of the Gazette.

Sequim Gazettte reporter Matthew Nash added to this story.

Paul Gottlieb is a senior staff writer with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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